Hey, remember back when Al Jazeera was the object of loathing and fear in the USA? Bankrolled by the Emir of Qatar – a thriving democracy in the Middle East whose ruler has been a male member of the Al Thani family since 1850 – Al Jazeera was once described by American media as “a mouthpiece for terrorists”, “anti-Semitic” and “anti-American”. It earned the anti-Semitic tag honestly enough, broadcasting an on-air birthday party organized by Al Jazeera’s Beirut bureau chief for a Lebanese militant convicted of killing four Israelis, including a four-year-old girl. And considering it was the outlet which carried Sheik Qaradawi’s weekly program, “Sharia and Life” and Sheik Qaradawi “extended his Koranic blessing to suicide bombing against American civilians in Iraq”, you could make an argument that it earned the anti-American tag honestly as well.
No more, though – all water under the bridge, let bygones be bygones. The outlet’s managers could not now be more pro-American, as this gushing testimonial to Mikheil Saakashvili’s appointment as Odessa’s governor attests. Penned by former United States Army officer Luke Coffey, it is a progressive tongue bath of Saakashvili that is almost embarrassing to read, kind of like watching a bizarre peep show featuring repugnant sex. Unless you’re an admirer of the former Georgian president, of course, in which case it is only his due as the Caesar Of His Time; render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.
Coffey pitches a quick little historical vignette, describing how observers and analysts should not be surprised at Poroshenko’s appointment of a foreigner to lead Odessa, since that was de rigeuer back in 1803. Two French noblemen were appointed during this period, the first by Tsar Alexander himself, as governors of Odessa. These appointments join wife selling, tobacco smoke enemas, lobotomy and the Divine Right of Kings as examples of a progressive society, for the period in which they were common.
But when you top that historical precedent with Mikheil Saakashvili’s success in fighting corruption and improving the Georgian economy, why, as Mr. Coffey avers, the appointment “makes perfect sense”.
Mikheil Saakashvili’s success in fighting corruption and improving the Georgian economy; my, yes. Let’s take a look at that. Especially as Mr. Coffey avers that President Poroshenko appointed Misha specifically to clean up corruption in Odessa; you may want to keep an eye on that, see how he’s doing, from time to time. Mr. Coffey must have had an affectionate little smile on his face as he thought about Misha’s charisma, he positively oozes it. And energy, too – he’s engaging, and “has endless amounts of energy”. I think I can explain that last bit, as his increasingly porcine appearance suggests he is living on a diet of candy bars. Corruption-fighting by Cadbury.
Some more licking follows, as Saakashvili is described as a visionary who gravitated to Ukraine because it was the only way he could help the country of his birth that for some unaccountable reason wants to arrest him for corruption and various other allegations. Yes, you heard it here first: “…he understands that the geopolitical reality of the Black Sea means that a secure Odessa is a secure Georgia. For him, this is part of his destiny”. Jesus wept; I don’t know if I can finish this.
Mr. Coffey is fond of statistics to back up his claims, and that’s good. According to him, the Index of Economic Freedom – compiled by a conservative right-wing Washington think tank and an ideological conservative newspaper – just loves Mikheil Saakashvili for how easy he made it to do business in Georgia. And it hardly needs saying that Transparency International – supported by Shell International, Microsoft, Google, BP and General Electric, among others – saw him as a mythic corruption-fighter of epic proportions, like Batman, The Flash and Diogenes all rolled into one charismatic, energetic package.
I wonder what those organizations think of the current Georgian President. He does not seem to get a mention, nor does the government of Bidzina Ivanishvili, who headed the Georgian Dream party that knocked the charismatic corruption-fighting dynamo off his perch. Because Saakashvili’s crime-fighting spree coincided with record unemployment in Georgia: it was 12.6% when he took office, zoomed to nudge 17% under his able command, and was still 15% when he was ignominiously kicked out of office. It’s back down to 12.4% now. But Mikheil Saakashvili is credited with being “the one reason Georgia did not become a failed state”. You can’t see me, but I am doing that fingers-down-the-throat gagging thing.
Similarly, Georgia’s per-capita GDP is currently at a record high. So are monthly wages , which reached their record low in 2007, while Saakashvili was apparently too busy fighting corruption to look after his subjects. Wages in manufacturing – a critical component in national self-sufficiency – same story: record high at present, record low under the Cadbury Dynamo. So weary from fighting corruption around the clock, it escaped his attention that his Defense Minister had started up an offshore business in his own name which roared from a paltry $8 Million and something USD in turnover in 2009 – the year he started it up – to nearly a Billion in 2012, three years of non-stop, rolling-in-moola corruption right under Saakashvili’s nose. The profits before taxes (taxes, ha, ha) that year amounted to more than $51 Million USD. That year, the per-capita GDP for Georgia – what your average Georgian would have to live on and support his family for a year, adjusted for purchasing power – was $6,322.50 USD.
But don’t let my stage-setting implant any preconceived notions, as we step uncritically and with open minds into the showpiece of Saakashvili’s renaissance of the Georgian economy – The Batumi Miracle.
“[T]he capital city [of the Adjara Region], Batumi, is booming. Foreign Direct Investment is flowing in. Five-star hotels mark the skyline. The old city has been rebuilt and preserved“, enthuses Coffey. Really? You know, I’m coming around to Mr. Coffey’s viewpoint. Mikheil Saakashvili actually is the one reason Georgia did not become a failed state. Because if he had won another term, it would have been. He saved Georgia, by getting thrown out of office.
The roof of the Batumi Trade Center – a Saakashvili project of which he laid the foundation stone himself in 2010 – collapsed in 2012, doing about 25,000 Lari (about $11,000.00 USD at today’s exchange rate) in damages. Fortunately it happened at night, when the building was empty.
But nothing says Sweet Smell of Saakashvili Success in Batumi – a miracle, if I may be so bold – like the Batumi Technological University. The American Technological University, as some referred to it, since it was built with American money from the Second Compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation. MCC itself, if you can imagine the cheek, was unconvinced that Saakashvili’s bold plan to build a technological university was a sensible or justifiable expenditure of grant money (some of that Foreign Direct Investment cash that “flowed in”, according to Mr. Coffey). No, they argued (shortsighted fools) that building a technological university would be more likely to benefit privileged families than poor families, that the money would be better spent on addressing systemic failures in higher education, and refused to approve the project.
And this is where Saakashvili proved his worth as a guy who won’t be told “No”. Undaunted by the unseemly quibbling over poor people’s educational opportunities, he played the wild card that sucked all the air out of the room – our technological university will have the world’s only miniature Ferris Wheel. How do you like me now, bean-counting eggheads?
Of course it did not happen just like that; I have no idea if the Ferris Wheel was Saakasvili’s idea or the architect’s – although Saakashvili would most certainly have seen the designs – and it was not the addition of this feature that swayed the decision. But just imagine it: struggling all day with difficult technological problems, and then the glorious rush of freedom at the end of the academic day – all the students rushing for the roof, shouting “Me first!!” “No, me!!”. And then whirling around and around high above the earth…what a great way to blow American taxpayers’ money!!
Honestly; what kind of lunatic spends that kind of money on a Ferris Wheel on the roof of a technological university, in a country where the average citizen lives on about $6000.00 a year, after being told by the donors it was a stupid idea? The kind of lunatic who would be perfect for fighting corruption in Odessa, obviously.
Saakashvili opened the Batumi Technological University in 2012, just before the Georgian Dream wave rolled over him and swept him away. It was to have its first students in 2013. The incoming government studied the madcap project, and scrapped it. The new government requested proposals for improvements to the higher-education sector – just like MCC had initially suggested – and announced the intent to co-fund successful proposals with $50 million over 20 years. After spending more than $30 Million USD to build it (plus around $90,000.00 USD annually in maintenance in 2012 and 2013, Saakashvili’s ivory tower was sold for $25 Million, to be turned into a hotel.
Where a little Ferris Wheel just might be almost appropriate. Good luck, Odessa. Remember, it’s easy to ride the tiger. The hard part is getting off.